Beyond Bricks and Mortar: Africa’s Housing Challenge

Understanding the dynamics of housing needs and demands is a major challenge Africa has to overcome in order to meet the continent’s housing supply shortfalls and, alleviate social and economic underdevelopment prevalent on the continent.

Over the years, housing has evolved from the traditional methods of building with bricks and mortar into a housing system. And like any system, housing has an impact on the economy, infrastructure development, environmental sustainability, the financial market, living standards, and the health and wellbeing of a nation. In addition, housing stores and distributes a nation’s wealth and is a major driver of the economy. Perhaps, more than any other factor, housing (where one lives) determines one’s life chances.

It is therefore essential for African countries to get the policies and strategies on housing right. Getting these right goes beyond bricks and mortar. It would mean embracing a new system thinking and a complete ‘housing re-engineering’ which would include producing holistic policies and strategies that focus not only on bricks and mortar but also on educational and employment opportunities, transportation, health and wellbeing. It would mean making better use of available resources and embracing innovative building methods, which have been proven to work in other parts of the world along with traditional methods, and adapting such methods to housing development across Africa.

It means developing smarter houses, which rely less on the use of conventional energy, and building houses that enhance the economic development of our communities. It means creating opportunities for people to have access to home ownership at various income levels or gain fair access to decent affordable home rental. Additionally, housing is about promoting equalities. This means having an understanding that the housing needs and demands of communities vary and that these needs include the housing needs of older people and people living with disability and dementia, and developing the right mix of housing to meet such diverse needs.

This line of thinking is not the last slab in the development of housing but the first step to be taken by Government and stakeholders to ensure that housing across Africa is not constrained to brick and mortar but is fit for purpose in the 21st century and beyond.

With the dearth of relevant data, the emergence of an informal housing sector and the lack of understanding among policy makers on the evolving systemic nature of housing, there is a danger that housing will continue to be (mis) represented in terms of bricks and mortars.


To ensure that housing across Africa continues to be fit for purpose, it is essential that approaches to housing development and related infrastructure are robust. Notably, a new direction is needed on housing which will include the following. First, the funding/loan parameters used by funding bodies for assessing funding applications and awards to African countries should be reviewed and widened to include a comprehensive housing ‘package’ assessment which also considers factors beyond bricks and mortar in its assessment.

Second, governments and institutions across Africa should as a matter of high priority set up strategic housing as part of their housing institutions to set the strategic direction for housing based on evidence. Along this line investments should be made in data gathering and analysis to collate data on housing and related infrastructure. This will not only inform policy making and investment decisions, it will also ensure that housing in Africa benefits from the use of modern housing technology, becomes more affordable while also addressing the needs of everyone including those with disability. These are the basic foundations for a better housing future which will ensure that housing is not constrained to the bins of bricks and mortar in Africa.

About me

Tony Olowoyeye works with a Local Authority in the United Kingdom within the Housing Strategy and Performance Team. His areas of interests include strategic housing, affordable housing delivery, housing performance, innovative funding for development projects, urban creation and development, fuel poverty, energy efficiency in housing, data management and analysis for informed decision making and regeneration.

He can be contacted on

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6 responses to “Beyond Bricks and Mortar: Africa’s Housing Challenge

  1. Tony,
    That is quite informative .I work with a leading MFI in Nairobi ,Kenya and we are looking on ways that we can introduce new building technology under Housing Microfinance product that will be affordable and produce superior housing quality. Any idea.

    1. Hi Aggrey – I’ll get Tony to respond but I thought I should also just let you know about the upcoming conference that we’re planning for the African Union for Housing Finance ( The theme of the conference is alternative building technologies for affordable housing construction, and it will be in Nairobi in November. Please email me if you want more information:

  2. Malek Abubekr Cave on 11th July 2014 at 8:42 pm

    I live in South America,Guyana to be exact.I have long been concerned with the continued non innovation in the African Housing Developmment, I believe that the time has cone to merge bricks with other materials so as to lower the cost of housing thus making it more affordable.My company has developed an innovative solution which we believe will help to lower the cost of housing for low income families in Africa.I am an African Descendant and will be glad to make an input to the need for free exchanges and ideas at any conference which is taking a serious approach to revolutionizing housing in Africa.
    As an African,I feel strongly that too much kickbacks hamper nation to nation development,it causes many to spurn the idea of coming home to the motherland and help to change the lives of our brothers and sisters.

    1. Hello Malek. Thanks very much for your input. You may be interested in the upcoming conference of the African Union for Housing Finance – the theme is on alternative building materials for affordable housing construction in Africa, and it is taking place in Cape Town from 17-19 November 2014. For more information, visit the AUHF conference website.

  3. (hallo) kecia my name is pascoline i live in mitchells plain and long to own my own house as my son keeps on asking me when we gonna get a house but i must just say we must wait for GOD,the small ones nose just never dries up im so sick of the cold and the leakings i realing can give the money on my house couz every year i must make sure its warmer than the other winter,i am on the councils data but it just seems like nothing is coming our way i dont earn a salary that can get me a bank house my husband cant get a decent job as he has a criminal record he also use drugs couse he cant handle it anymore he dont get a job or a house for hes family he wants to change but i dont know im so glad i came to this webside so that someone can hear me and try to help us in getting a house i know its not that easy but even if we only get the walls and we must put the others together we would appreciate it so please let me hear from you.

    1. Dear Pascoline. I am so sorry to hear about how difficult your situation is – and the waiting list for housing is indeed very long. I’m afraid I don’t have any answers for you. In terms of your income situation, you should apply for an RDP house – is that the waiting list you’ve been on for eight years? Follow up with the Council again – and regularly – to find out where you are on the waiting list and ask them to tell you how long it will take. Get a reference number from them. In the meantime, if you can manage to save a little – keep it in a separate bank account – so that when something becomes available you’ll have money to cover the costs – that would be good. Good luck Pascoline – and hang in there.